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Sabres Central

Mario's Magic extends series to 7
By Rick Anderson
May 9, 2001

Mario's Magic extends series to 7 A minute and eighteen seconds separated the Buffalo Sabres from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. Leave it to Super Mario Lemieux to spoil the Sabres party and now they have to play another game to see who will advance as the Penguins beat the Sabres 3-2 in overtime. The Pens kept the pressure on the Sabres and it was Martin Straka who scored the game winner.

Lucky bounce! Super Mario Lemieux scores a dramatic goal with only 1:18 left in regulation time after a pop-fly shot lands in the crease in front of Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek. Hasek's didn't see the puck until too late and the Penguins scored mid way through the first overtime to force a game seven in Buffalo on Thursday.
[REUTERS Photo/Jason Cohn]

The key to the victory was Mario's goal that sent it into overtime. Forget about Straka's overtime goal, this game and possibly the series was won on one of the wackiest goals seen in years. With the Sabres clinging to a 2-1 lead and the Penguins having pulled goaltender Johan Hedberg in favor of the extra attacker, the Pens got a big "bounce" to notch the game up.

Alexei Kovalev took a shot from the point that Curtis Brown attempted to get in front of. The puck hit the shaft of his stick and turned into a pop fly as it must have gone at least 20 feet in the air. With Hasek looking to the skies in a futile attempt to locate the high-fly puck, Lemieux had positioned himself right in front of the crease to Hasek's right. The puck hit right in front of Hasek in the crease area and Sabres defenseman Rhett Warrener had the opportunity to take a whack at it with his stick to clear it out of danger. Instead, Warrener chose to let Hasek handle the puck, believing that his goalie had full view of it. That allowed Lemieux to chop at it, not once but twice until it slid through Hasek behind the goal line.

"Hasek didn't see it at all. I just whacked it in," said a joyous Lemieux.

"The puck went somewhere up high, nobody saw it," announced Hasek. "I think I made the first save, I don't even know. I just didn't know where the puck was. I was looking and waiting, all of a sudden I saw it dropping on me."

Warrener failed to do neither of two things that could have prevented the goal. He could have used his strength to push Lemieux out of the crease or he could have hit the puck out of danger. He didn't do either.

"They got a bounce and I didn't react fast enough to get to it," said Warrener. "I thought Dom was going to grab it."

Because of Mario's "lucky goal" the Penguins had been revived and they finished off the Sabres 11:29 into the first overtime on Straka's goal. But that was almost anti-climatic compared to Mario's super feat.

Without the heroics by the owner of the Penguins and there would be no seventh game for his club. Now his team will have a Game 7 and a huge opportunity to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The question is whether the Sabres can stop the Mighty Super Mario machine?

Pens dominate in OT

Game winner in OT! Penguins' Martin foils the Sabres chance of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for at least two days with this game winning goal in overtime. Dominik Hasek had no chance of stopping this shot and the Penguins starve off elimination.
[AP Photo/Gary Tramontina]

While all the talk after the game was about Mario's tying goal, it was Straka who actually extended the series one more game. Pittsburgh outshot the Sabres 4-2 in the extra stanza, but it was clearly evident that the Pens were much more energized than the Sabres. Buffalo looked just like the Penguins did in the last game on Saturday, tired and lethargic. In fact, the Sabres had gotten into the "shell game" when they took a 2-1 lead late in the second period and never really got out of it. It was because of their defensive mode, that allowed the Penguins to employ their aggressive attack.

In the overtime, the Penguins took the attack into the Buffalo zone and never seemed to let up. The goal that won it was also resulted because of a strange set up. The puck was sent into the Sabres zone and was going to be an icing except a Sabre player got a stick on it and it went to the back boards a "live" puck. Robert Lang retrieved it and passed it over to Kovalev, who snapped a pass directly to Straka in the slot area. Straka's shot got to the back of the net before Hasek could react quickly enough and the series was extended to the limit.

"Lang forced the play and Kovvy found me and I was wide open,"described Straka. "I just wanted to hit the net. I didn't even think about it. In overtime, you have to keep getting the puck on the net and try to get lucky."

"I moved, but not fast enough,"Hasek said.

The Penguins have been criticized for tiring out in the latter half of the past games. This certainly was not the case on Tuesday. In the third period, the Pens outshot the Sabres 10-2. Overall, they got almost twice the shots on Hasek as Buffalo got on Hedberg, 33-18.

Hasek had one of his best games in the playoffs so far. He was spectacular at times and if not for his dominance in goal, the Pens would have ended this game much earlier.

Sabres take lead twice

It was looking good for the Sabres when they got the opening goal 9:26 into the first period. Maxim Afinogenov had just come out of the penalty box after serving a hooking penalty and stickless Steve Heinze skate passed the puck over to the speedy Russian. Afinogenov went in all alone on Hedberg and put a fake on the goalie, going to his left. Afinogenov put it past Hedberg and the Sabres were rolling.

Pittsburgh came back and tied it up at 5:14 of the second stanza when Kovalev got a nice pass from Straka and was able to get Hasek to go down and he put his shot up high and the game was deadlocked. Exactly 15 minutes later, the Sabres took the lead when Donald Audette was able to put a shot that hit inside the far post and it looked good for Buffalo. That is, until 1:18 remaining in regulation when Mario pulled the rabbit out of his hat.

Old soft shoe does Sabres in

Buffalo employed the old soft shoe, or in this case went into a defensive shell when they had the 2-1 lead. That is toying with fire where it concerns the Penguins high-octane offense. Eventually you know that Mario and Co is going to score.

Mario was given the rough treatment twice in the game as Vaclav Varada twice put the hurts on the Super owner. In the first period, Lemieux fell and Varada jumped over Lemieux in an attempt to avoid running into him. But Varada must have brushed his back as he flew over him. Then in the second period, and errant stick by Varada clipped Mario in the face area and Lemieux was down on the ice for several minutes, hoping to get Varada for 4 minutes instead of the 2 he actually got.

The Sabres now have to come out like they did when they beat the Philadelphia Flyers 8-0 in Game 6 of the first series. If they do the old "soft shoe" and allow the Penguins to launch an all-out attack like they did Tuesday night in the Mellon Arena.

Sabres Talk

The Penguins try to make people think that they were actually concerned about coming back and forcing overtime. Everyone knows that Lemieux had it all in his magic bag of tricks.

Maxim Afinogenov scores on Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg right after getting out of the penalty box in the first period to open the scoring in Game 6 against the Penguins.
[AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar]

"We were worried, I can't say we weren't," said Kevin Stevens. "We couldn't seem to get the puck past Hasek. But Mario found a way."

The Sabres and a lot of fans blame the poor luck of the bouncing puck for the loss. In reality, the Sabres could have won this game if they had played more aggressively before the Pens had to pull their goalie for the extra man. Getting only 4 shots on goal in the third period and a half an overtime does not win games. Luck or no luck, the Sabres just didn't have the desperation that the Penguins displayed the entire game.

"Their tying goal was a bit lucky," said Chris Gratton. "Lucky things happen to great players."

"We've had good success in overtime," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "It is frustrating to give it up, but teams are going to get bounces. There have been bounces going either way. That's all a part of the game."

Alexei Zhitnik could tell that Hasek didn't know where the puck was when the officials were debating whether to call the "Texas fly rule" or not.

"I knew Dom couldn't see it," Zhitnik said. "Sometimes, it bounces and goes in a different direction. It landed just dead."

Warrener, who thought Hasek did have his eye on the puck, wishes he had done things a bit differently.

"We were in the perfect spot," said Warrener. "We came in and played the way we wanted to play. We had the lead. Everything was going our way right up until that point."

Ruff was devastated with the sudden loss.

"I think it's emotionally draining any time you lose," Ruff said. "You lose late or in overtime it gives you a real hollow feeling."

Dave Andreychuk seconded that feeling.

"Losing that way is tough to swallow," Andreychuk said. "But we can't dwell on what happened. It's a bounce they got and we just have to bounce back from it. The pressure is on us to win in our own building. But it's a good pressure in my eyes.

Audette knows that he is one of the players who has to step it up if he wants to continue his playoff presence. After being traded from the hapless Atlanta Thrashers and given a chance with a contender, Audette did contribute with a goal on Tuesday. He may have to do even more when the two teams play the last game of the series in Buffalo.

"There's nothing you can do about it," Audette said. "There's no time to whine about it. You have to let it go. Tomorrow is another day. Thursday is do or die for us, too. We have to be ready for sure. When you have a one-goal lead with a minute left, it could have been over. You have to let it go."


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